Not good enough, city says to county

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

The City of Madison is reopening a can of worms with Morgan County government. Earlier this month, the city sent a letter to the county, requesting the county renegotiate a “new Service Delivery Strategy” (SDS) with the city, on account of the city’s claim that city residents pay too much in taxes while not receiving a fair-share of county services. Georgia House Bill 489 mandates certain stipulations on service delivery between cities and counties.

“As elected officials, it is our responsibility to follow the law and to do what is right for our citizens,” stated the letter signed by Mayor Fred Perriman, and all five city council members. “Madison would like to dialogue with the County regarding how these services will be provided for and funded in the future. I invite you to share this with your fellow commissioners with the hope that the County will agree to participate in this dialogue with Madison. Mutual collaboration would avoid unnecessary additional expenditures for consultants, experts, legal fees, and court costs. Together we can achieve better arrangements for the future provision of all services beneficial to all County citizens, including our respective shared constituencies.”

County Manager Michael Lamar is working with County Commissioner Chairman Donald Harris on setting up a sit-down with city leaders to discuss the issue, aiming to emphasize the 26 government services the county currently provides.

“We look forward to talking to the city about Service Delivery Strategy in its totality,” said Lamar.

“The SDS Act requires agreements that specify how government services will be provided for between a county and city. The Act requires ‘funding equity’ and minimizing the unnecessary duplication of government services. The County and Madison have a duty to negotiate provision and funding of all governmental services in good faith.”

According to the letter, city officials have been investigating the current SDS and are unsatisfied with its current setup.

“We believe there are at least seven County services which are primarily for the unincorporated area: Animal Control; Planning, Zoning, and Building Inspections; Road Construction, Operation, Maintenance, Fire Protection Services; Law Enforcement Protection Services provided by the Sheriff (i.e., patrol, investigation, and administration); Solid Waste; and Administration.”

The city cited the SDS Act in their to the county. According to the SDS Act, “The cost of any service which a county provides primarily for the benefit of the unincorporated area of the county shall be borne by the unincorporated area residents, individuals, and property owners who receive the service…Such funding shall be derived from special service districts created by the county in which property taxes, insurance, premium taxes, assessments, or user fees are levied or imposed or through such other mechanism agreed upon by the affected parties which complies with the intent of…”

The present funding does not comply because the cost of services is paid through a County-wide levy of ad valorem taxes, rather than tax and service districts or by agreement.

But Lamar noted the city should look at the entire gambit of services utilized by city residents.

“When you do an analysis of service deliver, cherry picking certain service provisions seems a little bit inconsistent,” said Lamar. “For a more valid analysis you have to look at each service delivery under House Bill 489 and make a determination about equity based on its totality.”

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